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Nature. 1997 Dec 4;390(6659):509-12.

A role for oestrogens in the male reproductive system.

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Department of Veterinary Biosciences, University of Illinois, Urbana 61802, USA.


Oestrogen is considered to be the 'female' hormone, whereas testosterone is considered the 'male' hormone. However, both hormones are present in both sexes. Thus sexual distinctions are not qualitative differences, but rather result from quantitative divergence in hormone concentrations and differential expressions of steroid hormone receptors. In males, oestrogen is present in low concentrations in blood, but can be extraordinarily high in semen, and as high as 250 pg ml(-1) in rete testis fluids, which is higher than serum oestradiol in the female. It is well known that male reproductive tissues express oestrogen receptors, but the role of oestrogen in male reproduction has remained unclear. Here we provide evidence of a physiological role for oestrogen in male reproductive organs. We show that oestrogen regulates the reabsorption of luminal fluid in the head of the epididymis. Disruption of this essential function causes sperm to enter the epididymis diluted, rather than concentrated, resulting in infertility. This finding raises further concern over the potential direct effects of environmental oestrogens on male reproduction and reported declines in human sperm counts.

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